THOMAS: A MAN OF PRINCIPLE
by Joe Tanzi
for Independent Studies Prof. Onuf,
December 4, 1985
I'm graduating from A.U. (the American University) on Sunday, May 18, 1986, 2pm, DAR Constitution Hall, 18th & D Streets.
Hope to see you there.
My whole family & friends will be there.
Hope you will be there too.
William Thomas, better known as Thomas, and Concepcion Picciotto have been in and out of court and jail since they began their 24-Hour Anti-Nuclear Vigil on June 3, 1981. They have been before a judge several times due to violations of conduct regarding local protest statutes and Department of Interior (DOI) regulations, but Thomas and Concepcion's latest battle could be their last. Not many realize the importance of their latest law suit against the government.
The law suit deals with two separate issues. Thomas has sued under the Civil Rights Act Title 42, Section 1983 and Section 1985. Section 1983 protects individuals from being deprived of their rights or privileges, whether it be due to color, regulation, custom, tradition or ritual. Section 1985 deals with the act of conspiracy in attempting to deprive such guaranteed
civil rights (The list of defendants Thomas has charged can be found in Appendix A.)
Since the first report (written December, 1981) a lot has transpired, both positive and negative. One individual who affected Thomas tremendously was Norman Mayer. Thomas viewed Norman,
Thomas firmly believes in Norman's 10 Laws of Reality. They are the key to understanding Thomas' and Norman's philosophy. (Norman's 10 Laws of Reality can be found in Appendix B.)
Unfortunately, Norman is dead as a result of his threat to destroy the Washington Monument. He announced that he had explosives attached to himself and that he would destroy; the monument, if the press refused to devote at least 50% of their time to covering the problem of nuclear weapons. A team of Park Police sharpshooters killed him.
Were the Park Police justified? No, Thomas stated because there was no proof the explosives did exist, According to Thomas, Norman did not have any explosives. Asked if Norman's act was an act of terrorism and if he was permitted to get the attention he desired would it not encourage other to do the same, thereby starting "a wave of terrorism?" Thomas replied,
" ...as a clearsighted, committed, dedicated
individual, who did what he could to communicate his view of reality to his fellow human beings. Who, it seems to me or seemed to me at the time, are more concerned with rather mundane and unimportant issues to give any time to..."
What really irritated Thomas was that the Park Police were awarded citations for having shot someone, "... who was no threat and thereby made a mistake." He believes shooting people is never justified nor does he believe in threatening destruction. He believes that Norman thought the same.
"Norman's 7th Law of Reality said, 'When men are inconfrontation, they psually do foolish regretable things. Men with megaton weapons in confrontation will do foolish regrettable things, finality... Norman was engineering a teaching situation for the purpose of illustrating the validity of the 7th Law of reality."
A major disappointment was the manner in which the media reported the situation. The most comprehensive article was written by Blane Harding for The Washington Post. Harding spent several hours over 8 period of several days talking with Thomas about Norman. Thomas gave him Norman's literature and explained Norman's philosophy. Thomas referred him to a close friend of Norman's, Jack Bauer, who resides in Florida, The reporter talked to Bauer, but when the article was printed both, Thomas and Bauer, were unhappy. Norman's character and philosophy were not explained.
According to Thomas, the article distorted some of the information. The article was written strictly from the reporter's simplistic view. Thomas summed it up easily, "Here's a wanderer who suddenly got concerned about nuclear weapons and became extreme when he felt nobody was taking him seriously."
Why is Norman so important to Thomas? It was not that he altered Thomas' philosophy. It was the importance of Noman's meaningful conversations, which according to Thomas, "...is an experience I am not accustomed to. People don't carry meaningful conversations in my opinion. I was impressed by Norman as being a very wise and honest person." Norman is also extremely important to Thomas because when times are rough, which is often the case, Thomas thinks of what Norman said. Norman told Thomas as long as there were nuclear weapons in existence the 24-Hour Vigil should
be in existence. That is the basic idea that is perpetuating The Vigil.
Another person who inspires Thomas is his wife, Ellen. They have been married almost two years. They were married by a member of the Quaker Marriage Committee. He came to Lafayette Park. They married themselves by saying their own vows and the committee representative signed the marriage certificate.
Ellen thinks just like Thomas, according to Thomas. Thomas and Ellen do not seem to have any problems because they "...seem to see things the same way." Thomas did say in a confessing tone, he found it diffichlt treating everyone the same. He has a tendency to want to be with her than with others. He views this as a weakness "...a problem with principles." He tries not to side with
her too much.
Unfortunately, Thomas and Concepcion's close working relationship has deteriorated quite considerably. Thomas does not even sit near Concepcion's table. Thomas claims, "Concepcion can't get along with Ellen. I think she can, but she refuses to.. She accuses Ellen of being a C.I.A. agent. She accuses Ellen of being only interested in publicity."
But Concepcion should be praised for having maintained her table alone. She should be admired for her tenacity and fortitude. She feels that Thomas and her have been through so much abuse since the very beginning, i.e., the police beatings and arrests. She feels as though Thomas has forgotten what they both endured. Basically, she feels betrayed.
In the beginning, Thomas and Concepcion were located in front of the White House on tĚhe sidewalk. After many encounters with the police they were told they could no longer stay there 24 hours a day. Instead, they would have to move all their signs and possessions before night, which they did. They even put their large signs on wheels to make them easier to transport, but both were still harassed by police.
Having 'reached his limit,' Thomas set one sign ablaze because each police unit told him he could not leave it in their jurisdiction. Their ultimate goal was to confiscate the sign like they had so many times previously. Rather than the police seizing it he decided it should be destroyed. Thomas believes a sign is
suppose to communicate a message and if it can not be seen it no longer has a purpose. Of course, Thomas went to court because of this incident.
New regulations were issued about protesting in front of the White House, regarding fire and distance from the fence. The Moonies held a demonstration in front of the White House to protest the Soviet's shooting down the Korean passenger airline. By burning in effigy the late Soviet Premier Andropov_and their standing so close to the fence, they violated the new regulations, but according to Thomas no one was arrested.
The Committee for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) aided Thomas by pitching tents across the street in Lafayette Park (a national park), but the court ordered them to dismantle the tents since the Park does not have camping facilities. The tents had been' used to protect the Vigil's property, house the volunteers and the homeless.
Next, Thomas and Concepcion were forced to move across the street on the Park side of Pennsylvania Avenue. This occurred on July 19, 1983. They are only permitted to be on the sidewalk. They are still here to this day, but their days may.soon be numbered. They could soon be going to jail, if they should lose the court battle. They do not plan an stopping their 24-Hour Vigil until their job is done.
There is no sleeping whatsoever, because that is considered to be 'camping.' They can be arrested for taking 'naps.' An interesting fact which Thomas cited was the 24-Hour Vietnam Missing In Action (MIA) Vigil. It has been in existence since Christmas, 1982. It is operated by war veterans who are attempting to get as much support as possible for the search of Vietnam MIAs. It is obvious that they have be camping out because their equipment is out in the open. Their vigil is on a national park near Constitution Avenue and the Vietnam Memorial. They are governed by the same regulations, but Thomas has yet to hear of any arrests.
The legal battle has not been easy for Thomas. He has had his legal paper work thrown out of court by a judge. It was in Judge Oberdorfer's opinion that Thomas' complaint was "inartfully drafted." The judge ordered him to get a lawyer. The lawyer was from the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.). The lawyer needed time so the status hearing was postponed.
Has Thomas found the A.C.L.U. to be cooperative? No, there are deep ideological "rifts" between them. Thomas does not believe in 'the system' whereas the A.C.L.U. believes 'the system' is fine and "...needs an occasional 'fine tuning."' Thomas does not believe in national boundaries or money..They do. Does he give them a hard time? "I don't think so. I never screamed at them."
"...It was out of character for him, but that it was strikingly in character for the people that he was trying to communicate with. The main policy of this government in regard to the Soviet Union is the threat to':'blow it up.' It seems to me that Norman had] stepped out of his normal role as a sane and rational individual and temporarily assumed the role of the President and Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon."
The most honest appraisal of the situation was from a lawyer He told the lawyer that he seemed tb have problems with attorneys, deep rooted ideological differences. The attorney replied very simply, "Yes, that's understandable you're a philosopher. You're interested in truth. We're in this for the money."
Thomas does not think that he should have been forced to have an attorney draw up the complaint. His legal complaint that he "inartfully drafted" was correct in the areas of spelling, grammar and structure. He suggested if that draft did not meet the judge's specifications why did not the judge tell him what needed to be corrected? When asked if he thought the judge wanted to spend the time to explain to him what or how it should be written? He replied, "I'm wondering is he interested in justice?"
So he is forced to go to the lawyers and all the lawyers want money. Thomas concludes,
"I feel they're not doing a good job. I feel they are doing their job as best as they see fit. I think they don't have a clear perspective of what needs to be done. Their always in a rush. They don't have time to sit down and discuss things. They've always got meetings to attend or court hearings or research to do, so they don't have two hours or three hours to sit down with me to understand where I'm coming from. They don't seem to be notably fond of criticism."
The hospitality of the group has not changed. They are friendlier and as thoughtful as ever. While interviewing. Thomas, Concepcion offered some leftover Armand's pizza, but it did not look too appetizing. From which dynasty did it originate? In all seriousness, they could not have been more hospitable.
What are Thomas' immediate goals? (See Appendix C: Writ of Mandamus.) What are his long term goals? Educate the public to immediate threat of a nuclear holocaust, thereby putting pressure on the government to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Educate the public about 'the system' and the need for a nonviolent revolution to end the present money oriented system. He believes the economic system is not reality.
"Freedom is money in this country. Justice is money in this country. Equality is justice. Equality is money in this country. Everything is money. There are no ideals. We are not an idealistic nation. We have no concern with freedom, justice or equality. Our only concerns are with money."
Has Thomas 'veered off' since December, 1981? No, he prefersto be with Ellen more than others, but according to him he even feels stronger about the movement, but yet talking with him it is obvious he has 'mellowed out' a bit. This he does not like to admit, but would not deny. He attributes his mellowness to his
wife, Ellen, who has approached the movement "with a lot of gusto." Ellen does seem to be a very outspoken person after witnessing her deal with people.
Does he think the public's attitude has changed since he started? Yes, unquestionably! They are more concerned with the issue of nuclear weapons. Before he would hear, "You're totally out of touch with society." "People will never use nuclear weapons." "Its only the threat to use them." Now he rarely hears that argument. "Almost everyone seems to view nuclear war as if not inevitable quite likely, and people who did not seem to
consider it much of a problem before, now seem to be considering it a problem."
People are now stating the ideas of Norman Mayer. The same people would have never talked to Norman while he was alive. He cited an example, Randall Forsberg, Carl Sagan and other scientists last fall held a one night vigil. They gave speeches, "...and it seemed like they were reading from Norman's literature." He does not consider it plagiarizing. It just took them a little longer to come to the same realizations."
Even though there has been a rise in nationalism, the nationalists are no longer calling him 'a nut,' because they realize the inevitability of a nuclear war. They seem.to be prepared to accept the consequences of a nuclear war, in order to protect 'Old Glory' or whatever they want to protect.
Thomas is not against the nuclear peace talks. If they really wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, they would have expedited the matter already. The current logic is,,"Yes, we think that nuclear weapons are terrible and we want to get rid of them and we've decided the best way to get rid of them is to build more of
Parallel to that line of logic is an editorial that appeared in The Washington Post. (Thomas read it aloud.) It was written by Walter Stossel, Jr., Chairman of the Chemical Warfare Review Commission, who had prepared a report for the President and Congress. The editorial stated that after studying the present
state of chemical warfare and all the issues around it for a period of three months with seven distinguished Americans, he came to the conclusion, "...that the achievement of the ultimate goal of the verifiable ban on nuclear warfare and its weapons can be increased only if we commit to modernize our inadequate and deteriorating stockpiles." Thomas does not think this is a rational nor intelligent suggestion.
Thomas is now not only concerned with nuclear weapons destroying the world, but the government destroying the Vigil. The government bs attempting to terminate Vigil by creating even more rigid regulations in regards to protesting in national parks. This past August 20, the Park Service decided to end the "dump-like atmosphere" in Lafayette Park. They are attempting to
limit the number and size of posters. They are attempting to regulate the legal distance a protester may travel from his or her sign before it is considered "abandoned" and can be confiscated. (Detailed information on proposed regulations can be found in Appendix D: "American Freedom Alarm.")
It is easy to dismiss Thomas, Concepcion, Ellen and others, labeling them as 'obsessed loonies,' 'paranoid crackpots,' who are suing the government on the grounds of "conspiracy!" 'Get serious!' It is easy to ignore them. It takes time to listen and read their material. One may not agree with their philosophy, but the important issue is the survival of the 24-Hour Anti-Nuclear Vigil and their guaranteed rights of freedom of the press and of speech, along with their civil rights. All of which are threatened due to the current administration's desire to silence a very successful and effective Vigil. They have been violating the Vigil's civil and constitutional rights consistently, but this court case is quite crucial since it will be establishing
the regulations effecting future protests and demonstrations with regard to Lafayette Park and could possibly serve as a precedent for all national parks. One never knows. It is hard to believe that civil and constitutional rights have been and continue to be violated, especially, in front of the White House. Best of luck to Thomas; Concepcion, Ellen and other Vigil people in winning the court case. Give 'em hell!
"It is a reality substitute.. It's a false reality. It doesn't have anything to do with elements...I think the only way that we can possibly change things, because violence, revolution is not going change things. It's only going to put a new name on it, a new person in the driver's seat. The only way we can really change things is to stop supporting what's going on, to wait for a non-violent revolution."